Elongated spasms

This week, AL Kennedy composes begging letters and officiates at a showbiz wedding

Well, I’m still alive. I think. A combination of stress and research now means that I’ve developed a wibbly eyelid and two different head ticks. I think the eyelid annoys only me, but the head ticks are a bit much for the general public. The main one involves my head shaking itself in a perfectly understandable ohpleaseno kind of motion. I’ve tried to adjust this into a more positive yeswhynotifIhaveto noddy thing – but this often simply causes the two to combine and then involve me lashing about in elongated spasms that no doubt translate as fallingdownawell fallingdownawell.

Meanwhile the first Pencilfest at Warwick – organised by student writers for student writers – went off rather well and was, I’d have to say, better organised than several long-established festivals I could name. I think their choice not to have a giant parrot mascot was probably a mistake, but otherwise all was delightful, the sun shone with enthusiasm and nobody died or spontaneously combusted during my event (comedy about writing) which is always a plus. My other comedy gigs ranged between – “This is grand and I wish to do it for the rest of my life,” and the rather more downbeat “You were mostly here last month when I did much of the same material, weren’t you? Please bear with me and I shall not be so slapdash again – it’s just that my brain can only produce so much Funny in a 4 week period, given that all I’ve been doing is working. I have been unforgivable and will now make a noise like a hoop and roll away.” I am packing the notebook with new Funny, even as I type this. Can’t be tedious for the lovely ladies and gentlemen.

It’s been drawn to my attention – by my bank statement – that, although I’m ricocheting off the UK’s corners and expending energy I’m borrowing from future generations, I’m not actually earning any money at the moment. Or not quite enough to balance my perfectly reasonable outgoings. Another week of this and I’ll have to stop waiting for something to turn up and try to manufacture something – despite attending two festivals next week and disappearing into London again for research purposes. I feel that if I don’t sleep or go to the toilet, spare time could be created for additional lucrative endeavours.

I should, of course, be tapping away at a new (and entirely unprofitable) short story – and may tonight – but the rest of the daylight hours may well be occupied in writing begging letters to people who could assist me with the next novel’s more factual and elusive bits. I am fantastically bad at asking for help, don’t seem to be able to do it in person at all and tend to feel that emotionally blackmailing busy people to do work for you for nothing is fairly inexcusable. Beginning a letter to a total stranger with “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I don’t deserve to live…” is perhaps not a good idea and so much rewriting ensues.

The high point of last weekend was, naturally, the marriage of Christine Cloughly (dance teacher, social butterfly and accountant) to Paul Sneddon (comic) which took place both on Saturday and Sunday. First, the conventional service – with the traditional interval for watching Dr Who – and then they joined many comics and other excellent people at The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh for a second, entirely unnecessary showbiz marriage at which I was proud to officiate in my capacity as ordained (by mail) minister. They’re two splendid people, have been happy together for ages and will, I hope, be even happier now.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.